Archive for October, 2011

It’s Halloween

It’s Halloween.

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Lonely Crafty Squirrel

Lonely Crafty Squirrel.

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When I knew I was coming to England, I thoight it would be interesting to visit one of the local vineyards of Hampshire.  The one I chose is situated on the rolling Southdowns of Hampshire  just behind Portsmouth and not far from the place where Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery laid their plans for D Day.  Tucked away down a typical English leafy lane, small and crammed to the gunwales with their wines but very busy getting their orders out.

As I arrived after the harvest, the machinery; de-stalker, press, conveyor belt etc.,  had been cleaned and was now waiting to be put away for another year.  But I was able to see into the small building where the vats stood. It was a bit like being let loose in a grown ups world but without one being there.   Opposite was the bottling room with its racks of bottles waiting to be labeled then racked plus boxes of their wines being prepared for delivery to customers.  In a steel cage were some of the pink sparkling wine waiting their turn in the process. The staff here were very helpful and informative.

So here is a short history and story of English wine both normal and Sparkling, born out of the Romans love for it.

The history of wine making in England began when the Romans arrived.  They found they could grow grapes in this strange country, and as we know from history how fond of wine they were, the logical step was to make it so they did.  The proof that wine was being made here by the Romans, was found during the early 1980’s, when some Roman wine containers were discovered on the site of the vineyard. It was one of the reasons why the Wickham Vineyard was created, so when in 1984 after further investigations into the suitability of the area were carried out, 6 acres of vines were planted. This has since increased to 18 acres and as there are 40 acres in a total I understand that further planting is in the planning stage.

You can almost imagine the Romans making their way towards London from Portsmouth stopping off to sample some of the excellent local wine before continuing their journey.

English history was as perverse as anything so when, as history informs us, Henry the 8th decided the monasteries had too much wealth and power he destroyed them, unfortunately in doing so the art of English wine making declined as well. But it is thanks to one or two of the aristocracy the vineyards did not completely die out. Plus King Charles the 2nd was hiding in this area on his flight to France, who knows he might have tasted the wine whilst waiting for his boat and escape.

In 1984 Wickham vineyard was planted by John and Caroline Charnley, and thus began a small but busy vineyard making sparkling wine alongside reds, whites and beer.

The vineyard is planted on gentle south-facing slopes, a necessity in the northern hemisphere. There is a large English oak tree in the centre, standing like a natural guardian over the vines.  These are encouraged to grow upwards before they extend their shoots like arms which drape gracefully downwards allowing the grapes to hang like earrings from elegant ladies. This system is called the Geneva Double Curtain, which is perfect for growing vines that are of low yield,  because it can increase the yield by around 50%.   Having visited this vineyard when we lived in England I have memories of the grapes ripening on the vines.

As you can see from these pictures the bottling and shed is packed to capacity.  The bottles waiting in the metal rack have had yeast added then a bottle cap is used to seal them whilst the process continues. They are then tipped so that the bubble can be drawn after which they are topped up, corked, labeled ready for storage and sale as sparkling wine.

Opposite this area is another building which contains the vats and other equipment for the processing of the wine, whilst outside we found boxes of wine on their pallets ready for despatch.

There is as with all vineyards and Cellers a shop which sells their products and a wide range there is too.  The red wines are just as I like them not to dry, but perfectly balanced for sipping, although I think they would complement a meal nicely.  As you can see from these awards the wines are doing very well and helping to promote English wine.

I have to say that these are not handed out willy nilly, so the fact that there are 5 on the shop wall dictates that here is some fine English wine, worthy of investigation.  I will add though, that since I live in a wine growing region the pleasure I get is from sipping wine.  I look at it like this; if I can sit and sip a wine that is to my pallet’s liking it is good.  If it is a little drier than I personally like, then drunk with a meal it will be fine.  And yes, I think that Wickhams Sparkling Wine can give Champagne a run for its Euro’s.

This vinyard grows 10 different varieties of grape including Pinot Noir, Triomphe, Dornfelder, and Rondo, are used for the reds, whilst the white is made from Reischensteiner, Wurtzer, Kerner,  Bacchus, Faber, and Schoenburger.  The soil here is a mixture of chalk, gravel and clay, ideal for growing vines because of the excellent drainage plus mineral content, and is the same soil as the Champagne region, hence it’s perfect for their sparkling wine.

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The End Is Nigh!

The End Is Nigh!.

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Slippery Grease Or Slippery Greece.

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This is my big medical visit, when I have my blood test and check up so I use it to visit the family.  We drove up to London to see my sister going round the M25 then into London via the Blackwall Tunnel.  As we came out of the tunnel and headed towards Leyton the olympic site could be seen on the right hand side.

They are getting on with the building very well, even if the sculpture is a bit bazar looking at the moment, with lots of red steel and what looks like the start of three viewing platforms.  So the next morning when my sister mentioned the Westfield Shopping Mall, the biggest in Europe,  I suggested to the delight of my wife that we took a look, I did not expect what I found.

As a boy growing up around this area places I knew had disappeared to be replaced with a new housing development for the athletes, and very smart they look too, a sort of modern ‘White City’ only 100 yrs on.  These flats are white, modern and look well designed.

There is also a brand new Stratford station which brings the Euro Train into the site and East London, so there is easy access for trips to France, which will no doubt bring in plenty of visitors.

The car park was reached via a spiral ramp which took us to the first level parking with spectacular views of the athletes flats. There is a ‘wall’ of safety meshing round each level but your view is not obscured.  On the floor you will find a ‘path’ marked in pink which takes you to one of the two exits down to the shops.

Two escalators later we found ourselves in the mall.  It is bright, spacious and packed with lots of shops and three floors high.  There are seats scattered around for those who are pooped from shopping to sit, or bars of all types, food, champagne, sushi, tapas, with an icecream bar where the icecream is shaped like a rose, and plenty of coffee bars.

We wandered off towards John Lewis which is at one end of that level, camera in hand (well in my wifes hands) taking pictures. In John Lewis we discovered they have a viewing platform, well it is an area where you have a clear view of the olympic site and the ‘Gherkin’ through large clear windows, plus seats for those who just want to sit, stare and take it all in.   The store was being decked out for Christmas with displays dotted here and there.

My sister and I went to have a coffee whilst my wife went off to take a few pictures of the shops and an exhibition of skateboarding.  Then  she joined us for her coffee, after which we went down to the next level and Primart.  This is one of her favourite shops, shopping done she went to que up, my sister and I thought, from the length of the que, that we were in for a long wait, but this branch had it all worked out, fifteen tills, all open and working the que fairly flew along.

Then back up to the top-level where we wandered back the way we came, and headed home.  We had been around 3 hrs and no, we had not covered all of it.  There were so many things to see, so many walkways to go down it was impossible in the time we had to cover more than we did.  But if you are in London take a day and go see, it really is well worth the visit.

And Lewis?

Oh yes if you do go, you will probably meet PC Lewis and his WPC partner to whom I must apologise for not getting her name, and say a big thank you for letting my wife take their picture and being so polite.

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Kill The Mit

Kill The Mit.

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Wag The Finger

Wag The Finger.

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A European Trip

A European Trip.

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Whilst reading through posts from my friends on Facebook I came across one from El Brogit Guiatges which interested me. They are keen to get people involved with the countryside, vineyards and Cellers to promote the great wine of the Monsant region.  You can go on various walks taking from a half day to three/four days, they also aim to promote the natural history and beauty of the Monsant Mountains. So loving wine, being interested in nature and in need of some exercise I decided we would join them on their walk to this Sunday.

Look at the map of the roads in the Monsant and Priorat regions and they appear as thick lines some not as thick but only slightly wiggly.  In real life however they are very wiggly! On a beautiful sunny morning, we took the road from Falset into the mountains along a very sneaky snaky road. Round bends that bent, corners, twists and turns to the top of the pass, from where the view of the valley was encompassing. From here it was a meander into the valley and Porrera, passing people in the fields picking hazelnuts, before taking another road upwards and onwards to our destination in Cornudella de Monsant, where we arrived around 10.00am.

On arrival we were greeted by one of our guides Meritxell a pleasant young lady who spoke good English and introduced us to Sergi our other guide.  After we were all assembled and been handed our tickets for the Celler we set off up through the village and out into the countryside.

I did say walk didn’t I? Well for me it was more of a hike but a very spectacular one.  Walking out of the village we began to climb towards the fields and the top of a ridge. The beginning was about a 30dgs climb, I am not used to this degree of exercise so it was head down one foot forward. Wow! look at the views Siurana to the east, with its lake glittering in the sunlight.

Now the climb was getting steeper, and the younger people were getting ahead of me but they paused to wait for my wife and Meritxell to catch up photographs had been taken.  So turning again we started upwards, it looked so steep and the mesa looked very high, no wonder they have a climbing centre here.  Then we reached a field just below the ridge and stopped for something to drink and a rest.

The views from here were even more beautiful.  Off we set again on the last part of our climb then as they say it was all down hill towards the hermitage of San Juan.  This is an old chapel used by the Cistercian Monks, but even they did not like the long climb so halfway up there is a shrine which they used. As for the farmers, they were so poor that they could not afford a chapel so they made do with a large rock ‘rock of prayer’ where they went to pray when in the fields.

Arriving at the Chapel we found there was a spring and after filling water bottles we wandered round to the front. Here we were divided into two teams and played a game of charades, everyone taking part with laughter.

We had just finished this when a Pirate appeared and handed the two team captains an envelope for the treasure hunt so off we went down towards the lower fields in search of treasure.

Once in the fields the captains opened the envelopes and looked at the treasure map, somewhere in amongst the 60 to 70-year-old vines were two keys which when matched with pictures would reveal the prize.  Well we found the keys and grapes, now what? then we saw a monk walking towards us carrying two bags. He welcomed us and said the captains should match their keys against those on the bags, when they were opened one had a bottle of wine inside the other had pieces of paper one with a mark on it so whoever picked it won the wine.  A young lady won to cheers and laughter (there was a lot of that) we took group pictures then made our way down to the Celler Baronia del Monsant.

These walks are not only interesting but fun. You see the countryside, meet people and generally enjoy a good walk.  If you are interested, you can contact Meritxell or Sergi on www.elbrogit.com/home.html    Happy Walking


The Celler

The Celler was a big surprise. Most of the Cellers we have visited were large, but this one is small and like a pocket Venus, small, but perfectly formed.

As you enter there is the shop selling the 6 wines they make here and displaying their prize certificates for their wines. Behind this is the area where in the harvest the grapes are brought to be processed. A young lady called Laura was our guide round the Celler, very helpful and informative.  Unlike other areas, tractors cannot harvest these fields so all picking is done by hand, and because of the weather up here grapes can take longer to ripen.  So they are brought to the Celler in grey boxes not trailors, then processed in the electric machines that like the Celler are small but perfect.

There is the machine where the stalks are separated, next to that is the crusher from where the grapes are pumped downstairs, all on castors so they can be moved around for storage.  Just to one side of the celler door is the bottling unit, and from here 90% of the wine is sold abroad.

Down stairs you find around 14 stainless steel vats, and to my surprise they use the open top method. Here the grape skins float to the top and form a crust which is kept damp by spraying grape juice over them thus preventing bacteria from forming and spoiling the wine.   From here the wine is placed into Oak barrels to mature.  These barrels are made from either American oak which gives the wine a vanilla note and French oak which gives the wine a spicy note.  It is only when the wine has matured that it is blended, until then each variety of grape is processed on its own.  The barrels are dated when the wine is put in and then the date when they are ready for blending is placed near the top so the blender can see when it is ready.

Then we came to the tasting of the 6 wines produced here. The first from the Garnatxa grape was ‘flor d’englora garnatxa 2009’. This wine I enjoyed immensely it was light and a little on the sweeter side which, in my opinion, was perfect for sipping at the end of the day sitting on the terrace watching the stars.  The other wines that followed became increasingly drier, ideal in my opinion, to be drunk with well hung beef or game, the last was a softer blend. But I have to say that my personal preference  was for the flor d’englora garnatxa.

This is an interesting Celler which needs further investigation so I am hoping to visit it again soon. This time to delve more into its history and the blending of the wines. If you would like to taste some of these wines and savour the flavours or match them with various meals you can find them on www.baronia-m.com  or reach them on engloria@baronia-m.com .

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